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March 23, 2015

Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Lives of Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

The third week of Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta, two extraordinary women who were shaped by the Great Depression, fought for workers’ rights during the height of the American Feminist Movement, and changed the face of organized labor.

Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941.  Although she applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company, African American women were barred from holding clerical positions and she was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

She and her husband were ordained ministers and founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago.  She played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Dolores Clara Fernandez, better known as Dolores Huerta, was born in 1930 in New Mexico, and grew up in the farming community of Stockton, California. She earned a teaching degree at Delta Community College.  During that time, she met her first husband.  She later married Ventura Huerta. In the early 1950s, she worked as an elementary school teacher, and many of her students were the children of farm workers who were living in poverty.  Teaching the children of farm workers had a profound impact on her, and in 1955, she became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO), which worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and fight discrimination.  Through her work at the CSO, she met Cesar Chavez.

In 1960, she helped create the Agricultural Worker’s Association (AWA), and in 1962, she and Chavez launched the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), the predecessor to the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).

In 1965, she helped to organize the historic Delano Grape Strike and consumer boycott against growers of table grapes in California.  The strike involved thousands of grape workers and was a significant victory for the UFW—leading to a first contract with these growers. In 1967, the NFWA combined with the AWA to create the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. During this time, she negotiated contracts for workers, fought against the use of harmful pesticides, and advocated for unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers. In 1973, she led another successful consumer boycott against California grape growers that resulted in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which allowed farm workers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Dolores Huerta stepped down from her position at the UFW in 1999, and established a foundation where she continues her work to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and women. She has received many honors for her activism, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

To learn more about Dolores Huerta, follow her on Twitter (@DoloresHuerta) or visit her foundation’s website at http://doloreshuerta.org/.

February 17, 2015

Black History Month: 50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Fifty years ago at the height of the civil rights movement, our country’s immigration policy was radically changed. The Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as thImmigration_Bill_Signing_1965e Hart-Celler Act, abolished the national origins quota system which favored some Europeans and excluded Asians and Africans and established a new immigration system that focused on attracting skilled labor to the United States and reuniting immigrants with their families.

The 1965 law, which opened the door to immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America and changed the demographic makeup of our country, was signed by President Johnson at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965. An excerpt from President Johnson’s speech is as follows:

This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.

This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country–to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit–will be the first that are admitted to this land.

The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system.

Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants.

Families were kept apart because a husband or a wife or a child had been born in the wrong place.

Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents.

This system violated the basic principle of American democracy–the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.

It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.

Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.

Today, the fight to create a fair and just immigration policy and make our country a more open place continues. It’s time to reform our country’s immigration system and create a clear and fair path to citizenship for aspiring Americans so that they can live and work without fear.

February 11, 2015

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre Honors the African-American Labor Leaders Who Have Inspired Him in His Work

Reposted from Huffington Post

By Tefere Gebre:

AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre stands with Walmart workers on Black Friday 2014

AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre stands with Walmart workers on Black Friday 2014

Every February, people across the country celebrate Black History Month. We honor the heritage and struggle of African-Americans in the United States while looking with hope towards the future. This year, I am honored to look back at organizers and activists who inspire me daily in my work as a leader in the labor movement. The history of the modern labor movement, which is positioned to speak, fight, and win on behalf of all workers, is filled with strong black figures who fought for civil and economic justice during a time when justice was not guaranteed for all.

When I arrived in the United States at the age of 15 as a refugee of war-torn Ethiopia, I struggled to take care of myself financially while also trying to focus on my academics. When I started college at Cal Poly Pomona on an athletic scholarship, I also got a job as a night shift loader for UPS as a member of Teamsters Local 396. UPS was my first union job and it opened my eyes to the world of labor and all of the trailblazing African-American organizers who had come before me.

People like Bayard Rustin who persevered in the face of threats and violence in his efforts to organize workers on behalf of the trade unionists. Despite enduring multiple arrests and beatings, Rustin continued in his work and went on to help organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside A. Philip Randolph, another great African-American labor leader. The March on Washington was the largest demonstration the United States had ever seen, bringing together hundreds of people in the struggle for better jobs and better lives.

Thanks to the work of activists like Rustin and Randolph, all African-Americans have moved closer to achieving the goals of justice and equality set forth by the civil rights movement. Rustin and Randolph are important examples of the positive role unions and collective action play in the African-American struggle for economic justice. Today, African-American union members earn 28 percent more than our non-union peers and are far more likely to have good benefits that help us raise families. But there is still work to be done.

Now more than ever, the struggle for civil rights must include good jobs that raise wages and an economy that works for all. Without good jobs, there is no real freedom. While African-American union members are weathering the economic downturn with the aid of collective bargaining, our non-union brothers and sisters are suffering. Today African-Americans have a 10.4 percent rate of unemployment in the United States compared to a 4.8 percent rate for white Americans.

It’s time for the next generation of leaders to take up the torch and work on behalf of all workers. I am grateful for the inspiration that past African-American leaders have left behind for me. This proud legacy continues to motivate fellow activists who are fighting for justice today. Let’s get to work and make them proud.

February 9, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month: Bayard Rustin–An Overlooked Champion of Civil and Labor Rights

image via AFL-CIO

image via AFL-CIO

One of the greatest moments of the Civil Rights era was the March on Washington in 1963–one of the largest non-violent protests to ever occur in America. The March on Washington brought thousands of people of all races together, in the name of equal rights for everyone–whether they were black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made one of his most inspiring and famous speeches at the march, which culminated on the National mall.

But history has often overlooked the man who was the driving force behind this monumental event–a man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the one who organized the march, bringing methods used by Gandhi as well as the Quaker religion to Washington to ensure peace, but also impact. It was Rustin who helped shape Dr. King into the iconic symbol of peace he is remembered as.

As a young adult, Rustin worked with many kinds of people who influenced his activism, including ministers and labor organizers. During World War II, Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring, and was later jailed for two years after refusing to enter the draft. Then, after protesting segregated transit systems, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.

Despite being punished for his beliefs, Rustin continued to work towards changing things for the better. In 1953, Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to partake in the famous bus boycott that kicked off after Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. The boycott brought many civil rights leaders to the area, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King, who had not yet embraced non-violence. But Rustin taught many who were partaking in the boycott how Gandhi had used peaceful tactics to bring change in India, and people saw the importance of these tactics, and began to embrace them, focusing on direct protest.

Rustin was also a champion of workers rights. In 1965, Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African-American trade union members. Much of his work emphasized that labor rights were an integral part of the civil rights movement.

Although Bayard Rustin was a tireless activist, his life achievements are unknown to many, and he has even been called the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement. This is largely because not only was Rustin silenced and threatened like many others were for being a black man speaking out for equal rights, but also because he was openly gay in a time when homophobia and bigotry was rampant. Rustin continued his life as an openly gay man, even after being incarcerated for it, and is seen as a champion of the LGBT movement still today. Despite being beaten, arrested, jailed, and fired from various leadership positions, Rustin overcame and made a huge impact on the civil and economic rights movements.

America has a long way to go before Rustin’s dreams of equal human rights for all are achieved, but without him, we perhaps would not be where we are today. Today, we have a black president, more women in leadership positions, and more of legislation in the states overturning old and outdated laws barring gay couples from marrying. These are just a few examples of the progress our country has made since Rustin’s time, and working people will continue to work so that ALL people have equal rights–at work and at home.

 

February 4, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month: Addie Wyatt

addie wyatt twoEvery year, The UFCW and its members take time to remember people in our union who broke barriers, fought for justice, and paved the way for working class Americans today.

As part of our annual celebration of Black History Month, we’re looking back at beloved UFCW member Addie Wyatt’s story.

Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941 in the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, which is what she had originally applied to be, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

Addie’s work for the union as well as in her community played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and she joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Addie’s life is a perfect example of how labor rights are civil rights. At her job, in the union, and throughout all aspects of her life, Addie fought to break barriers for women’s equality, strived to better working conditions, and campaigned for fair treatment of all people, no matter what one’s race. Addie is just one of the many UFCW examples that still inspire members today, as they march on the front lines of social justice, and spread the word about sticking together for a voice on the job.

February 2, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month

130823151139-03-color-march-on-washington-restricted-horizontal-gallery

image via http://www.historia.ro

This week marks the beginning of Black History Month–a time to remember and celebrate the rich history of African Americans and the achievements of the civil rights movement.

Black History Month dates back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans dedicated the second week in February as “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  In 1976, the celebration was officially recognized and expanded and every U.S. president since then has celebrated Black History Month during the month of February.

This month, the UFCW will highlight milestones in the civil rights movement—including the 50th anniversaries of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the Voting Rights Act.  We will also pay tribute to African American labor leaders who fought for fair wages, dignity in the workplace, and the freedom to organize in spite of considerable barriers, and honor their significant contributions to the labor movement.

March 27, 2014

Women’s History Month: UFCW Celebrates the Life of Addie Wyatt

addie wyatt twoAddie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941.  Although she applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company, African American women were barred from holding clerical positions and she was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

She and her husband were ordained ministers and founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago.  She played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

February 7, 2014

Black History Month Member Spotlight: Mike Dillard

For this week’s member spotlight, we chatted with Local 75 member and steward Mike Dillard. Mike has worked at Kroger stores in Cincinnati, Ohio and in nearby Kentucky for 25 years now, and has seen how being a union member truly makes a difference in the workplace. Today, he is an assistant meat manager.

In honor of Black History Month, he also shared with us some stories of his his grandfather and father, who lived during the height of the civil rights movement.

Local 75 member and steward Mike Dillard

Local 75 member and steward Mike Dillard

His father, a retired one star general and doctor, was the second black general in Ohio, and was a participant in several marches for equality in the 60’s. His grandfather, Mike tells us, was a doctor during World War I. However, when Mike’s grandfather Charles served during the war in the army, they refused to recognize his M.D., and made him scrub latrines instead. Although Mike remembers this story of his grandfather’s with sadness, he notes that he went on to later found a radiology center at the University of Michigan, with pride.

Mike also shares that he recently discovered that he and his family are direct descendants of a unit in the Civil War called the Black Brigade. Mike explains that during the Civil War, many African Americans living in Kentucky moved slightly further north into Ohio because it was less hostile towards them, and to escape the Confederacy which had moved up into Kentucky. When the confederates were on the verge of attacking the Cincinnati area, Union troops began taking black men against their will and put them to work to fortify the city and build trenches. But upon hearing this, one of the Union generals was outraged that these men had been forced to work, and demanded their release and an apology. Once the group of African American men returned to their homes, they were then asked if they would be willing to volunteer their time helping build defenses and fortifications for the city. Despite the previous gross violation of their human rights–being made to work against their will–nearly 1,000 African American men from the area agreed to help the Union troops. This group of men was dubbed the Black brigade, and became the first of many such groups to form throughout the country–building bridges and trenches, hauling cannons, and assisting the cause in many other ways. Mike notes that thanks to the help of this Black Brigade, the Confederacy was effectively kept out of Ohio and they saw no bloodshed.  There is even a memorial statue in a nearby park that commemorates the group, Mike says.

Unfortunately, Mike has experienced some conflict in his own experiences too, having dealt with a verbally and at one point physically abusive manager for a time. Thankfully, being a union member meant that Mike had the support he needed to get out of the situation. Mike says he tries to use what he has learned as a union worker, as well as his family’s rich history dealing with fighting for civil rights, to help his fellow union members.

“I’m a nice guy and I try to keep an open mind and good rapport with managers and my fellow associates,” say Mike. When Mike tells us that it is “better to get more bees with honey than it is with vinegar”, we are reminded of the teachings and actions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, both Civil Rights leaders who valued peaceful protest rather than violence.

As Mike reflects, he notes that the fight for equal civil rights and the fight for equal workers rights often have the same goal. When telling someone about the union at work, Mike explains that “you have a stronger voice with more people, just like with civil rights, you know if you have one person yellin’, you’re not going to be heard as much as 10,000 people yelling” for the same cause. “With both the union and with the civil rights movement, you have solidarity. It’s about being fair, and everyone having the rights that they should have.”

Do you have a story to share about being a union member, or about participating in the civil rights movement? Let us know here!

 

February 5, 2014

Black History Month Celebrations: Show Host Richard Fowler Empowers Youth to Make a Difference

To continue our celebration of Black History Month, we are sharing another story of someone who has made a great impact on civil rights and economic equality. That person is Richard Fowler.

After years of going into the voting booth with his mother as a young child, Fowler learned the importance of being an active voice in one’s community. Working with the NAACP, he has helped over 1000 young voters in his native Florida to get registered and organize. He has also worked as a campaign manager for political candidates, to work on issues that uplift women, youth of color, and LGBTQ and low-income communities.

Working with youth in order to empower them to make a difference in their own and their communities’ lives is clearly important to Fowler, who has trained about 2,000 young people on how to make their voices heard through messaging and media. Fowler’s trainings no doubt draw on his experiences as the host of his own radio show (The Richard Fowler Show), which has recently partnered with the popular show The Young Turks. Additionally, Fowler serves as the interim director of Generational Alliance, which is made up of over 20 youth organizations dedicated to increasing collaboration and coordination within the youth movement through the following methods:

1. Create cultural spaces for young progressive leaders
2. Sit in progressive spaces that have historically left out underrepresented communities
3. Provide trainings for staff of members’ organizations to fill the leadership development gap
4. Help organizations collaborate on advocacy issues they align with
5. Uplift and promote their communications efforts through media training, booking and digital organizing

Fowler’s work at the Alliance and at his own show also includes educating folks on important issues, like the Affordable Care Act, via YouTube videos.

Fowler is carrying the torch of the leaders of the civil rights movement who came before him, using new media and technology to inspire young people to make a difference in new ways. To learn more, you can follow him on Twitter @RichardAFowler.

 

 

 

February 3, 2014

This Black History Month, We Honor Bayard Rustin

photo credit: jrcla.org

photo credit: jrcla.org

February once again marks the beginning of Black History Month–a time to remember and celebrate the rich history of African Americans and the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the greatest moments of the Civil Rights era was the March on Washington in 1963–one of the largest non-violent protests to ever occur in America. The March on Washington brought thousands of people of all races together, in the name of equal rights for everyone–whether they were black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made one of his most inspiring and famous speeches at the march, which culminated on the National mall.

But history has often overlooked the man who was the driving force behind this monumental event–a man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the one who organized the march, bringing methods used by Gandhi as well as the Quaker religion to Washington to ensure peace, but also impact. It was Rustin who helped shape Dr. King into the iconic symbol of peace he is remembered as.

As a young adult, Rustin worked with many kinds of people who influenced his activism, including ministers and labor organizers. During World War II, Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring, and was later jailed for two years after refusing to enter the draft. Then, after protesting segregated transit systems, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.

Despite being punished for his beliefs, Rustin continued to work towards changing things for the better. In 1953, Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to partake in the famous bus boycott that kicked off after Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. The boycott brought many civil rights leaders to the area, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King, who had not yet embraced non-violence. But Rustin taught many who were partaking in the boycott how Gandhi had used peaceful tactics to bring change in India, and people saw the importance of these tactics, and began to embrace them, focusing on direct protest.

Rustin was also a champion of workers rights. In 1965, Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African-American trade union members.

Although Bayard Rustin was a tireless activist, his life achievements are unknown to many, and he has even been called the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement. This is largely because not only was Rustin silenced and threatened like many others were for being a black man speaking out for equal rights, but also because he was openly gay in a time when homophobia and bigotry was rampant. Rustin continued his life as an openly gay man, even after being incarcerated for it, and is seen as a champion of the LGBT movement still today. Despite being beaten, arrested, jailed, and fired from various leadership positions, Rustin overcame and made a huge impact on the civil and economic rights movements.

America has a long way to go before Rustin’s dreams of equal human rights for all are achieved, but without him, we perhaps would not be where we are today. Today, we have a black president, more women in leadership positions, and more of legislation in the states overturning old and outdated laws barring gay couples from marrying. These are just a few examples of the progress our country has made since Rustin’s time, and working people will continue to work so that ALL people have equal rights–at work and at home.